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Bush: Home Alone - America's futile attempt to woo its insulted allies

About the author
Michael Naumann is the Editor/Publisher of Germany's influential weekly Die Zeit. He was previously was German Minister of Culture from 1998-2000.

It was a weekend of success in the “war against terrorism”. Osama bin Laden’s chief strategic planner was captured in Pakistan. However, this “war” only serves to legitimise the real war on Iraq.

Even before the first cruise missiles strike Baghdad, this war has initiated a new era of international politics: the end of international law in the name of an American-defined world order. Unless that is the international protests, bolstered by a United Nations Security Council veto, can convince the US president otherwise. But that hope seems ill-founded. For George W. Bush defines himself as a man on a historical mission without precedent in US history: he is seeking to wage its first pre-emptive war for a global order.

It is not the war-abstinent French and Germans, Russia, or its Asian and Latin American partners, but the United States of America which has placed itself in diplomatic isolation, severely damaging the democratic basis for its leadership role. Power-based world policy requires global legitimacy. This can only be achieved by exceptional diplomatic efforts, something this President, in his exuberant military superiority, has shunned for the past two years.

Turkey’s “No” to stationing American troops has infuriated the White House. But it had neglected to familiarise its Nato ally with the post-war plans for the Kurdish part of northern Iraq, because, in fact, they are either vague or non-existent.

Hans Blix measures the disarmament process “in centimetres”. His symbolic success, the destruction of the first Iraqi short-range missiles, appears to be too late, as does Baghdad’s admission of its anthrax grenades and nerve gas arsenals. No doubt, without the acute threat of military action, Saddam would not have reacted. But George W. Bush wants more.

No going back

Meanwhile, the deployment of military forces to the Persian Gulf continues. In a few days there will be 250,000 troops amassed near the borders of Iraq (including 2,000 Australians, because the government in Canberra fears for its agricultural exports to the United States). This no longer represents a political showdown, but a state of incipient war, and the end of violence-free politics. In northern Iraq, special US forces are already visible in their 1991 Gulf War-style Humvees.

George W. Bush has mobilised massive reserve forces, tens of thousands of civilians who have had to leave their jobs. To send them back home now would constitute a loss of face which he would never survive. Neither the majority of the American people nor the trade unions would view an orderly retreat as a manifestation of this government’s weakness. But the elected elite in Congress and the lobbies of the military-industrial interest groups, the oil corporations, and the sensation-gripped mass media in particular would. So would al-Qaida, Iran’s mullah regime, and North Korea’s absurd dictator, not to mention Ariel Sharon’s government and the in-fact-threatened Israel.

The massive military deployment in the Gulf region has placed George W. Bush under pressure to act. According to The New York Times, he would be well advised to “take a deep breath”. He has been amply forewarned of foreign policy dyspnea in the Middle East by elder statesmen such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, as well as former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, none of whom can be accused of simplistic pacifist anti-Americanism.

New World Order II

The American motivations for military intervention in Iraq seem to alternate on a lunar cycle: a) war against terrorism, b) destruction of Iraqi nuclear capabilities, c)weapons of mass destruction, d) regime change, and e) democratisation of the entire Arab region. All fit seamlessly, however, into a policy of hegemony. The pre-eminent issue of the coming years is the new world order under American superpower. The impending war in Iraq is merely its first manifestation.

Since the administration took office, as the president’s National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, stated in 2000 (prior to 11 September), America will be guided by its national interests, instead of the interests of “the illusion of an international community”.

However, these interests exist in reality, as Ms. Rice has just discovered: they are by no means an illusion. Russia, China, and small Europe are still there – or rather here. As the author Michael Hirsh states in Foreign Affairs, the intention to redefine a new world order based on the democratic and free economy interests of the United States is akin to a political order: “Take dictation, please.” As I argued in my last column, Clausewitz’s doctrine of war as the continuation of politics by other means has finally been abandoned, in favour of - war.

Multilateralism is dying

The world is not enamoured of dictates or war. Neither France nor Germany and certainly not Great Britain have ever been called upon, beyond police measures, to develop a strategy of containment vis-à-vis the threats emanating from the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, North Korea or other nations with nuclear potential). Instead, Washington is demanding nothing less than that its partners dance to its leadership tune.

Since 11 September, American security policy is no longer based on classical nuclear deterrence, but on preventive war against “rogue nations”: offensive, instead of defensive policy. The search for the social, cultural, and economic roots of terrorism have meanwhile been relegated to the realm of think tanks and the Pope.

It is not only Europeans who have become accustomed to functioning alliances and international structures, which, almost without exception, were spearheaded by the United States: the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, Nato, disarmament, and ecological as well as multilateral treaties. Many of these have been cancelled or undermined by the Bush government. The potential irrelevance of these accomplishments became apparent in the summer of 2002, when the US Congress passed a bill to permit US military intervention should a US citizen should be tried by the planned International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Staying nuclear, the world round

Once the war against Iraq is initiated, the old world order, which, at least in Europe, secured more than 50 years of enduring peace under US protection, will have evaporated. Its future will then rest, ironically enough, on the lessons learned from this war by nuclear nations such Pakistan, India, China, North Korea, Israel, and, of course, Russia.

The notion that these nations should now resort to nuclear disarmament in the face of US re-armament would imply a belief in the worldwide commitment to peace, which the Bush camp has overtly distrusted since 11 September. Nothing illustrates this sentiment more drastically than the open discussion in Washington about a potential deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in the war against Iraq.

Nothing, it was stated after the terror attacks of 11 September, will ever be the same. But no one, save perhaps a White House strategist, could have conceived that an Arab despot like Saddam Hussein or a fundamentalist terrorist like Osama bin Laden could ever serve as the legitimisation for the new order of things.

Once Iraq has been conquered, excuse me, “democratised”, the US will target the next nation in the “Axis of Evil”. The time when Washington’s significant diplomatic energy was funnelled into successful peace and disarmament negotiations is over. The president of the world’s oldest republic is intent on liberating the whole globe from war in the name of an enduring Pax Americana, even if it means resorting to military force. America has not deserved this. Neither has “Old Europe”. Nor the world.


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